"The reconstruction cannot be done by government alone, by people in Zimbabwe alone," he said at a rally of about 300 Zimbabweans singing protest songs and greeting his speech with cheers, claps and whistles.
"You and everyone else will have to play their part in that reconstruction agenda. Zimbabwe is changing," he said. "It is slow and it can be frustrating, but it is changing."
The rally at the University of Witswatersrand here contrasted sharply with his welcome in June in England, where Tsvangirai was jeered when he appealed to Zimbabweans to return to their country.
"I think he’s a true leader. He’s a person who can take Zimbabwe from darkness to the sunny side," said one attendee at the rally, Mduduza Mcube, 29.
Several people wore shirts saying the Zimbabwe’s President Robert "Mugabe must go" and waved the Zimbabwean flag.
Many at the rally were reluctant, however, to return to a country which is still plagued by economic and political instability.
Farai Madamombe, 39, was disappointed by Tsvangirai’s speech, which he said did not give him a "roadmap" back to his country.
Madamombe moved to South Africa three years ago after losing his job as an accountant in Zimbabwe, and said he could not return until there were job opportunities there.
South African investors on Friday evening were also receptive to Tsvangirai but appeared hesitant to commit money to Zimbabwe, saying it would be a humanitarian investment unlikely to reap financial benefits.
"This country’s economic stability requires access to foreign markets, finance, technologies, skills and ideas, which are only made possible by all the key stakeholders working together as partners committed to Zimbabwe’s development," Tsvangirai said at a dinner for South African industry leaders.
Tsvangirai and Mugabe formed a unity government in February after Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only ruler since its independence, lost a first round vote last year.
The government was formed to end the violence that erupted after the vote and to rescue the floundering economy.
Tsvangirai arrived in South Africa Friday and was due to meet with South African President Jacob Zuma before he leaves on Tuesday to discuss the problems Zimbabwe’s unity government is facing, according to MDC spokesman Sibanengi Dube.